It’s a pleasure to be with you all today.
I want to start by thanking each and every one of you for making the journey here to discuss Scotland’s future.
I would love to start off talking to you about something positive, but truthfully, for a lot of people, it’s hard to see many positives just now.
We have a Government passing some of the cruellest legislation we’ve seen in a long time.
A Government that:
- Will happily break international law.
- That deems some of the most vulnerable people in the world as illegal.
- That revels in dog whistles and culture war against minorities.
A Government that is:
- Clamping down on the right to protest
- Clamping down on the right to strike
- And clamping down on the ability to vote.
I wasn’t being an alarmist when I mentioned the ‘the F word’ because the alarm bells are ringing louder than ever.
We are in the midst of a cost of greed crisis that shows no sign of slowing.
- Food Prices are up.
- Rents and Mortgages continue to rise, yet wages don’t.
- Living standards continue to decline, to the point that baby formula is now kept behind the counter to prevent theft.
For many, this is the scariest political period they have ever experienced.
With all these reasons in mind, initially I was puzzled as to why support for independence isn’t through the roof, but the more I thought I realised it is precisely because of these reasons.
Most folks are too busy worrying about where their next meal is coming from or how they are going to pay their next bill to be contemplating Scotland’s constitutional future as well.
That is where the job is on us.
We have to speak to people where they are.
We have to explain that independence is not an emotional decision. It is a logical one.
If Scotland was already independent and we were being asked to join with Westminster – what would the selling point be?
We have suffered decades of unelected Tory Governments deciding the economic policy of Scotland.
We have a Labour Party in opposition too busy with their pound shop Blair tribute act to do much opposing.
Take the biggest elephant in the room as an example.
We know Brexit is breaking Britain, yet labour still support it.
Their deathly silence proves that, just like the Tories, they hope if they ignore it, then it will all go away.
Scotland deserves better than what Sir Starmer is offering.
It’s the same tired, broken promises and myths.
As part of this union, Scotland’s only voice is within a system where we have 59 MPs out of 650. For context, the city of London has 73 MPs.
One city can and does regularly outvote the second largest nation in this union.
Even the courts confirmed that we are not in a union of equals.
The only way to ensure Scotland gets away from Brexit, from austerity and from Governments we did not vote for is to have the powers of a normal independent country.
I am proud of the record of our Scottish Government. We have used the tools at our disposal to mitigate Westminster damage as much as possible.
We have paved a different path based on fairness and dignity, even with one hand tied behind our backs.
We strive towards a well-being economy because we recognise that people have to come first for any society to thrive.
We literally spend millions upon millions every year trying to protect people from policies they never voted for in the first place. So, we have to help people imagine what more good we could do if we were able to better spend that money.
We have to communicate the importance of investing in and fairly managing our own natural resources.
To help folk understand the importance of being able to tailor the big policies to our needs, rather than always being an afterthought.
To help people question whether this is truly the best Scotland can be?
Help them re-evaluate the definition of broad shoulders.
And when the penny drops, we are there to offer them a greater vision of what is possible.
This is central to how we win.
It is only with mass public support that our independence will have any legitimacy at home and internationally.
Ultimately, if other countries do not view you as independent, then you are not independent, so legitimacy has to to be at the heart of everything we do, and only the public can give us that.
I have made no secret of my feelings towards Westminster over the years. My disdain for its attitudes, its culture, how it functions. This week I was reminded of a timely story one of the doorkeepers told me back in 2015, when I first arrived at Westminster.
They took me to one of the voting lobbies beside the chamber in the Commons and showed me this big vintage leather desk that sits right in the middle of the corridor. There, they told me that when Winnie Ewing was elected and arrived at Westminster, she wasn’t given an office.
If I thought Westminster was bad 8 years ago, then I can only imagine what it must it must have been like when Winnie was there.
But to be fair, this wasn’t such a surprise because in my own experience no one got an office when they first arrived. We had to wait a few weeks to be assigned one.
But the doorkeeper explained that this was different because Winnie was made to wait much longer than a few weeks.
Months and months went by, so she would chase it up but would always either be ignored or dismissed.
So one day, she took all her stuff, walked into that voting lobby and planked everything down on this big leather desk.
She said if they wouldn’t give her an office then she’d make herself one.
Now, these voting lobbies are fairly busy places. There are people walking through them, folk plotting and chatting amongst themselves, and they routinely fill up with hundreds of MPs, cramped together and shuffling through to vote multiple times.
But Winnie sat resolute. She refused to back down despite the disrespect being shown. Simply being there was the act of defiance that led to her eventually getting her office like every other elected member there.
I hope the doorkeeper wasn’t at it when they told me that story because I share it with you as a tribute to her late memory, but also because it encapsulates what her victory meant to so many people – what it symbolises about this Party and the independence movement as a whole.
In many ways it is arguably an analogy of where we are right now. Being ignored and disrespected by Westminster.
As we head towards the General Election, there is nothing Westminster would love more than the SNP to vanish from the Commons.
When we are there, they are held to account in ways they never have been.
When we are there, we are a thorn in the side of every, and any, Prime Minister’s Government.
Let’s not forget, Ian Blackford called out Boris Johnson as a liar long before Westminster did, and was thrown out for it!
As appalling as that was, we also can’t forget that Westminster eventually, reluctantly, admitted to be true the very fact they originally chastised us for.
When the Tories and Labour walk through the lobbies together to back Brexit – we are there to stand against it.
When they both vote through austerity – we are there to stand against it.
When they both stuff the unelected House of Lords with their pals and their cronies – we are there to stand against it.
When they continually ignore the democratic will of the devolved parliaments – we are there to stand against it.
The only reason more folk are waking up to the damage of Westminster is because we are there highlighting how powerless Scotland truly is within this union.
We are there to drag them to the dispatch box to publicly justify the damage they are inflicting on Scotland.
This is crucial because the world is watching.
They are watching as the UK tailspins.
And they see how Scotland continually strives to take another path.
They see how democracy is being undermined.
Most importantly, they see that no unionist can answer how you leave this voluntary union.
The main tool in the unionist arsenal is hoping that we get tired.
I’ve no doubt that many in here feel tired…I know I do.
But I also have no doubt that Winnie Ewing felt just as tired sitting in that lobby all those years ago.
When we say we stand on the shoulders of giants it is not a platitude, it is the truth.
Every person in this movement plays a part in pushing us forward. No matter how hopeless things have appeared, we have always been there carrying on.
The idea of independence has grown across generations because it is not about any one individual. It is about all of us doing what we can.
Let me leave you with a statistic Westminster can be proud of:
According to the Guinness book of records, the UK is the country from which most countries have gained independence.
Since 1939, 62 countries have gained independence from Westminster – and not a single one has looked back.
We do what those before have taught us and dust ourselves off and keep winning hearts and minds one at a time.
We do that and we make Scotland the 63rd country.
In politics, much like life, people come and go.
Issues change and life happens.
But what remains consistent across generations is that folk give what they can, when they can, however they can – and that every single bit of it counts.
Every single ounce of energy.
There were those who thought 2014 was the end for us, and yet here we are in 2023 with more support than we had then.
Our electoral success has ensured independence is on the agenda no matter who is in number 10.
Independence is no longer seen as a ridiculous fringe idea – now it is undoubtedly a mainstream political issue.
Not because of any one person, or politician.
But because of all of us.
For me, today has primarily been a listening exercise for everyone involved in the leadership of this Party.
We have a job to do.
We have to learn from our mistakes and embrace what works.
We need HQ to be better organised.
We should strive to provide better support and communication to our membership.
We have to equip you with the tools to get out on the street and convince people – provide you with the arguments and rebuttals you need to feel confident and energised.
We all have a role to play …
…and together, I have no doubt we will make that prosperous and progressive independent Scotland a reality.